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Posted 06/22/2022 in Category 1

Can we develop a strengths-based approach to work with athletes?

Can we develop a strengths-based approach to work with athletes?

We are so used to working and fixing what is wrong in our lives that we forget about all the other ways of working. Fixing what is wrong seems sensible, and frequently it is the right thing to do. But what if there is a better way to work with our mental health, well-being and performances? What if instead of comorbidity we had covitality as Renshaw et al. (2014) suggested? 

In covitality, we have components: emotional competence (i.e., emotional regulation, self-control and empathy); engaged living (i.e., optimism, zest, gratitude); belief-in-self (self-awareness, self-efficacy and grit) and belief-in-other (i.e., family coherence, peer support and school support). These researchers have shown that covitality is highly predictive of achievement in school and quality of life for children and covitality correlates negatively with depression and anxiety. 

There are several ways to work with athletes with a strengths-based approach. The following staged process is one option. In the opening three stages, the psychologist or coach can work with the athlete to build a working alliance, identify strengths, and assess the problems at hand. The focus is upon helping the athlete to identify and use their strengths. The athlete narrates or reframes their life stories from a strengths-based perspective. What this means is helping the athlete to see himself or herself as a survivor rather than a victim of circumstances. The circumstances might be injury, losing sponsorship, missing out on selection, losing their playing privileges and so on. The psychologist thoroughly explores the athlete’s problems beyond this narrative. Though we might only think about strengths as something psychological, they come in different categories: biological, psychological, social, cultural, economic, and political. Here are some examples for each category. 

Biological strengths might include exercise, sleep and nutrition. Psychological strengths might include problem-solving abilities and emotional strengths such as self-esteem. Our connections with family, friends, and coaches might be social strengths. We have cultural strengths from our beliefs, values, and positive identity. Our economic strengths might be employment or sufficient money to meet basic needs, and finally, a political strength might be equal opportunities. 

With a strengths-based approach to working with athletes, we have solution-building conversations that rely on strengths and keep us moving in the right direction. Without this structure, for example, we would easily forget the biological, psychological, social, cultural, economic, and political strengths that are around us. We might let our feelings tell us a poor, unhelpful, victim-based story that does not serve us. Working with a sport psychologist, for example, would help you to identify all these strengths and mobilise them for a helpful, hopeful narrative. You can also help yourself right now, but writing as many resources as you can think of in each category. Five minutes writing now might be the best five minutes you spend this day or this week. Why not take out your phone or a sheet of paper and see what strengths you hold?


Magyar-Moe, O. (2015). Positive psychological interventions in counseling: What every counseling psychologist should know. The Counseling Psychologist, 43(4), 508–557. https://doi.org/10.1177/0011000015573776

Renshaw, T. L., Furlong, M. J., Dowdy, E., Rebelez, J., Smith, D. C., O’Malley, M. D., . . . Strøm, I. F. (2014). Covitality: A synergistic conception of adolescents’ mental health. In R. Gilman, E. S. Huebner, & M. J. Furlong (Eds.), Magyar-Moe et al. 553 Handbook of positive psychology in the schools (2nd ed., pp. 463-476). Oxford, UK: Taylor & Francis.

Image by Keith Johnston from Pixabay

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